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No safety gear nor pay: The risky life of health volunteer

By Mercy Kahenda | July 29th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Caroline Munjiru educates locals on Covid-19 pandemic. She is neither paid nor supplied with protective clothing.[Mercy Kahenda, Standard]

Caroline Munjiru wakes up at 5am every day to prepare the day’s meals for her two children aged seven and 11.

She then embarks on her newfound mission of sensitising the community on Covid-19 pandemic.

As a majority of Kenyans fear visiting households due to community transmission, the 39-year-old community health volunteer wears a brave face as she walks from door to door, educating locals on preventive measures.

Armed with a notebook, she talks to the head of every family while ensuring the room is well ventilated to avert the risk of contracting the virus.

“Knowledge is power. I visit homes to ensure locals have water and soap for hand-washing and understand the importance of wearing a mask. With these measures, we shall flatten the curve,” says Munjiru.

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Advises on diet

She has been assigned 100 households that she keeps monitoring and evaluating daily using the Ministry of Health register.

The health worker also documents hand-washing initiatives in households, salons and butcheries before a report is handed to a community health extension worker who forwards to the Ministry of Health for policy making.

Being a nutritionist, Munjiru also advises the community on diet to boost their immune system in the fight against Covid-19.

She is among community health volunteers trained by the county two weeks ago to help in the fight against the deadly virus, amid high community transmission.

During the 10-day training, they were trained on provision of first aid before conducting referrals and giving fluids to those with diarrhoea.

The training also entailed importance of getting referrals, signs and symptoms of Covid-19, identifying contact persons for referral and quarantine.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said during the launch of primary healthcare in Nakuru two weeks ago that community health volunteers will support management of Covid-19 positive patients under home-based care.

Tedious role

“Globally, public healthcare has been acknowledged to bring improvement and contributes to better healthcare as well as adhering to Universal Health Coverage,” said Kagwe.

Despite the tedious role that comes with being a community health volunteer, Munjiru is not paid.

The county government also does not provide her with personal protective gear. She is only given a facemask at a neighborhood facility where she volunteers as a nutritionist.

Asked why she volunteers, Munjiru says she enjoys seeing the community healthy and free from diseases.

“I have been volunteering since 2012. When I wake up and see people healthy and wearing bright faces, it makes me happy,” she says.

Munjiru sustains herself through poultry farming – she has 30 chicken – and also makes soap, which she sells locally.

To document the report, she uses up to Sh300 weekly to photocopy several documents.

The story is similar for Cecilia Mwangi, who has been a community health volunteer since 2006.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, Mwangi mans 89 households, giving daily updates on health related matters and challenges.

“The county only gave me a fabric facemask when Covid-19 was reported in the country, but because of risks that come with visiting households, I am forced to buy surgical masks to keep myself safe,” she says.

Covid-19 pandemic Ministry of Health
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